The first thing you notice is the hair, that Mufasa-like mane with more extensions than your contractor asked for on your remodeling project.
Then you’re drawn to those eyes, giant brown saucers that look like your crafty kid’s Joggle eyes, framed by false eyelashes — before you’re distracted by those ravishingly red lips and Pepsodent smile wider than Julia Roberts’.
But, ultimately, you’re transfixed by the fabulous red gown with a shawl that looks like chiffon bubble wrap, the first of four, shimmering, to-die-for outfits that Diana Ross wore Wednesday at the sold-out Orpheum Theatre.
At 69, Miss Ross is truly a diva’s diva. She knows how to work a song, a crowd and, of course, a gown. Is there any other star who can hold her arms up in triumph at the end of a song, her bedazzled sleeves sparkling in the light, her smile radiating joy, like Diana Ross? Is there any other star who loves being loved any more than Diana Ross? Is there any other diva who can enrapture an audience 53 years after making her first recording?
OK, it was a relatively short, 76-minute performance — her casino or Vegas show, if you will. And, yes, she didn’t do “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” one of her signatures that has long been one of the most touching if schmaltzy moments of her concerts. And she didn’t clearly refer to the significance of the day — 50 years since Martin Luther King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, although at one point during “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” she said something about “go for your dream,” which could have been an oblique allusion.
But what might have felt pro-forma to some, sure seemed like no fillers, all thrillers to others. After sounding a little chirpy on the opening “I’m Coming Out” (memo to Beyoncé and Madonna: she started right at 8 p.m.), she was in good voice the rest of the night. She sang the up-tempo numbers with gusto, her Billie Holiday ballad with jazzy resolve and her Supremes classics with infectious glee. She may not have some of those high notes of the 1960s, but she had the kind of passion that made the performance truly memorable.
The show was divided into four sections (and corresponding costume changes): intro and the Supremes, disco Diana, jazzy Miss Ross and blockbuster hits. After arriving with “I’m Coming Out,” she used the Spiral Starecase’s 1969 pop hit “More Today Than Yesterday” to set up a slew of Supremes songs. It was impossible to resist the aggressive, orchestrated “Love Child” or “Stop! In the Name of Love” with 2,600 surrogate Supremes holding up their right hands and singing the chorus.
The highlight of Disco Diana came when she spotted a young man halfway back on the main floor and invited him onstage for “Ease on Down the Road.” And Calvin Zimmerman, 7, of St. Louis Park, had some pretty fly moves but Ross, ever aware of timing, hustled him off the stage before he stole the show.
The jazz section featured “The Look of Love” and Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” which were good vocal showcases but her ensemble with the deep-lime feathered coat over a form-fitting black dress might have been more unforgettable. The ensuing Dreamsicle-orange get-up was pretty eye-catching during the final segment.
The finale, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” a staple of Ross’ live shows for years, is a fitting celebratory send off for baby boomers, but, at this point, not a notion or song identified with her. Yet who can argue with such a Diana-licious performance?
set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera